Aug 31, 2016 | Kyra H. Kim |
The Mysterious “Plastic Octopuses” Explained Kyra Kim College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment University of Delaware July 13th, 2016 If you have recently taken a stroll along Lewes Beach near Cape Shores, you may have noticed an occasional PVC pipe or a bundle of polyethylene tubes sticking oddly out of the sand. These are not marine debris. And these are not the mysterious “Plastic Octopuses of Cape Shores” that everyone from the Ferry Terminal to the fishing pier is talking about. Rather, these are sampling ports (piezometers) that allow me and other scientists at the University of Delaware to sample the water that flows under the beach and to determine the extent to which natural processes below beaches serve to protect the important intertidal habitats for beach dwelling plants, invertebrate animals, fish, and birds. I am graduate student at University of Delaware, working with Dr. Holly Michael in the Department of Geological Science in Newark and Dr. William Ullman at the School of Marine Science and Policy in Lewes. First, I would like to apologize for creating such concern by installing these pipes and tubes without proper signage, allowing them to be mistaken, on occasion, for beach trash. When first installed, the piezometers were buried well below the beach surface, invisible to the public, and we anticipated that they would remain buried until our research was completed. Unfortunately, sand moves onto, around, and off the beach each year, and many of these piezometers have become temporarily exposed. We have marked these exposed Piezometers on the Cape Shores Beach during sampling of beach groundwaters. 1 ft piezometers on occasion, but labels and markings don’t last very long on the beach, and some of the signs we used were difficult to maintain. We removed these rather than letting them become beach trash. I want to reassure the residents of Cape Shores that these plastic “creatures” are of no harm to the environment. In fact, they are helping us preserve the environment for the organisms that live along the beach. The “Plastic Octopuses” were initially installed in 2011. They are constructed of harmless PVC and polyethylene tubing (the same materials that are used for plumbing in modern houses) and extend from the surface to a depth of 10ft into the sand. We install these piezometers by hand and it can take a few hours to install a set of piezometers at any one site. This is hard work as wet sand is heavy and easily collapses during installation! When we collect water samples (see attached photo), the samples are analyzed for salinity, dissolved oxygen, dissolved carbon, and nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. We analyze our samples to monitor how the beach regulates nutrients to the lower Delaware Bay. More information on the science can be found in the University’s Newsletter, UDaily (http://www1.udel.edu/udaily/2016/feb/fresh- salt-water-021116.html). Each piezometer port has to be horizontally and vertically surveyed in order to know exactly where each sample comes from. Our research is made easier by reusing the same piezometers for a range of experiments, conducted throughout the year. Thus we are eager to preserve these sampling ports for as long as possible. Between uses, the sampling tubes are buried under sand, with electrical tape marking the depth at which they sample. Therefore, it is important that these tubes are not cut or damaged at the ends, since having tubes that we do not know the depths of becomes useless and we have to pull them out, construct new ones, and deploy them again. We need your help to continue our research at Cape Shores! Please help our research by avoiding and preventing damage to our piezometers. We visit the beach regularly to maintain and rebury the piezometers as they become exposed. If you are concerned that any of our piezometers have become a hazard or are unsightly, please let me know and I will rebury or remove them in such a way that they can be redeployed, as needed. Also, let your neighbors and guests know that the Plastic Octopuses are not trash. Thank you, in advance, for your cooperation! If you see me on the beach, I am happy to explain our work to you, your children, and guests. And, if you really want to help, please volunteer to install a piezometer with me the next time I need to do so! Contact me at: email@example.com Thank you.
Research introduction & explanation article for Cape Shores
Ph.D. candidate at University of Delaware, Hydrogeology
B.S. in Geology, University of Texas at Austin, 2013
B.A. in Music, University of Texas at Austin, 2013